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New Year’s Resolutions

This past weekend, I an invigorating, inspiring Sunday in Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen. In five hours’ time, we blanched, shocked, peeled, and squished tomatoes for canned crushed tomatoes. We roasted the heck out of tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and onion for roasted tomato-vegetable soup. We charred, peeled, and chopped peppers for roasted poblano salsa. We chatted all things food over salad greens, fig vinegar, pistachio oil, cheese and baguette, and brownies, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the pressure-canner. We dunked big jars of tomato mush into a boiling water bath, then listened to the music of “ping! pop!” as the lids snapped into place. We perused cookbooks and canning guides, gushed over Dorie Greenspan’s lemon cream tart and Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s own tamari almonds. We got giddy about dishes we love, laughed about Food52 cooks we stalk, and commiserated about recipes that had unexpectedly let us down. I left feeling a renewed sense of kitchen productivity, and — more importantly for you, dear readers — a renewed drive to share what I’d learned, share the things I’ve been thinking about.

It starts here, today.

I’ve always had a list of kitchen aspirations: dishes I’d like to learn to make, techniques I’d like to master, skills I’d like to acquire. For too long, that list has been relegated to the back bit of my brain. No longer. This is the year to learn those skills, conquer those fears, make those delicious things.

Today, I’m launching a new feature: Kitchen Resolutions. You’ll see it on the left side bar. It’s a short-but-growing list of things I’d like to accomplish this year. Yes, it’s a bit random — everything from “sharpen knives” to “confit a duck” and more — but that’s the idea. They’re here, and they’re public — now I’ve gotta do’em.

I can’t possibly be the only one out there with kitchen fears; it would be all kinds of awesome if you all chimed in. Surely, you must have some sort of culinary phobia. Have you always been afraid to use anchovies? Are you intimidated by roast chicken? Whatever it is, we can do it. Here’s my deal with you. Leave a comment. Share that one thing (or two, or three) that’s got you stumped. I’ll pick some of the entries over the next few months, and I’ll post step-by-step tutorials, with pictures and everything.

If you don’t, I’ll go at it alone. But wouldn’t it be so much fun to have company?

Meanwhile, I’m going to start crossing things off my own list. For starters, kimchi: check. And pressure canning? That’s a check-plus, as of Sunday.

Cathy, aka Mrs. Wheelbarrow, is the canning expert in these parts. She offered all sorts of helpful tips on how to can properly and safely. First and foremost: when canning, follow the recipe. Canning isn’t friendly to improvisation. Think the jam is too sweet? Want to cut the sugar? Don’t. The ratio of fruit to sugar is an important element of successfully canning jam, and if you alter that ratio, your fruit may not preserve properly and could spoil on the shelf. Also important: ensuring sufficient acidity. Acid keeps food from spoiling, so don’t skimp on that lemon juice. In fact, as we were finishing up our crushed tomatoes, Cathy explained that for canning (and only for canning), she uses bottled lemon juice. The flavor pales in comparison to that of freshly-squeezed lemons, but the acidity is consistent in the bottled stuff, whereas with lemons, you never know how acidic they’ll be. Consistency is the key to success in canning.

There are two ways to can at home: a hot water bath and a pressure canner. More acidic things require only a hot water bath, which heats to 212º, or boiling. Products with lower acidity (our tomato-roasted vegetable soup, for example) must be processed using a pressure canner, which heats up to 241º, the temperature at which botulism dies.

Once cans have been filled, covered, and processed, you should leave them undisturbed. As the liquid inside the jars cools, the lids will be sucked downward onto the jar, and they’ll pop into place. When the popping starts, you know the jars have sealed. After leaving jars for 24 hours, you test each to ensure that it has sealed properly. How to do this? Simple. Remove the band (that’s the thing you screw onto the jar to hold the lid in place) and lift the jar by its lid (not too high off the table, in case the seal isn’t strong and the jar drops). If the jar lifts, the seal is strong enough, and the jars are ready for storage. All home-canned food should be eaten within one year of processing.

There’s so much more to tell, but that’s for another time. For now, I hope you enjoy the pictures of our Sunday canning adventure, and that you start thinking about that one kitchen fear you’ve always wanted to conquer. Bring on the comments!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Nick (Macheesmo) September 23, 2010,

    Awesome Rivka! I love the kitchen resolutions idea. Good luck getting them all done (and adding more to them)!

    Also, I love that last photo 😉

  • Elizabeth September 23, 2010,

    I think this is fantastic, and I might do the same.

  • Susan September 23, 2010,

    For me, it’s croissants. I worked as a cashier at a bakery for a while. We had the most amazing croissants, but they required this giant, scary machine to produce the melt-in-your-mouth flakiness. The woman who made them was a true bread baker. I loved to eat her work but imitating has proved far too intimidating.

  • Olga @ MangoTomato September 24, 2010,

    But you already made kimchi! Your recipe is hanging on the kitchen cabinet in my kitchen…so that’s my most immediate resolution. Plus to give challah another chance.

  • drbabs September 24, 2010,

    I’ve long had an aversion to making pie crust. But I am testing a pie recipe for Food52 this weekend and I am determined to make the crust myself! Wish me luck!

  • MrsWheelbarrow September 24, 2010,

    Rivka, What a bunch of fantastic photos of our canning adventures on Sunday. It was such a pleasure to have you cooking in my kitchen! You’ve done an excellent job capturing the essential points of canning, while showing how fun it is! All best wishes for your exciting month ahead, xoCathy

  • MrsWheelbarrow September 24, 2010,

    PS Resolutions are a great idea. I’ve been working my way through several in the last few years. Kimchi is def. on the list, and I am def. interested in making yours.

  • Adrienne September 25, 2010,

    I love this idea! I also like the resolution to make duck prosciutto; it’s something I want to try as well. That and making kimchi. I’ve lacto-fermented before (all our CSA cabbage becomes sauerkraut) but never kimchi. I also want to make a successful souffle, but since we’re doing them in class on Monday I’ll have to get over that fear pretty quickly!

  • Julia September 26, 2010,

    We need not get into my culinary phobias… but yes, let’s sharpen the knives already!

  • Rebecca September 26, 2010,

    Making my own pad thai (peanut free!). I have the rice noodles, now to just make it…

  • Rachiel September 27, 2010,

    Whole Roast Chicken! I’m sure you do this all the time, but it makes me very nervous.

  • Winnie September 28, 2010,

    This is such a terrific post. Lovely to see Cathy in action and the wonderful shots of you, as well. I love the Kitchen Resolutions idea. We have many of the same goals…sharpening my knives has been at the top of my list for, um, well, about a year! Like drbabs, I’d add perfect pie crust to mine, too.

  • Sara Conner September 28, 2010,

    What a great start to canning. I found you through Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s blog post. I heard her on NPR and had to look her up. Now I found your blog too. I love to cook and love fresh foods. I have been spending my summer blogging about growing my own produce and becoming a CT locavore. I just canned salsa for the first time ever. I haven’t tasted it yet – I am letting it mellow in the jar for a couple weeks but I am hopeful. This summer has been full of kitchen firsts for me.

    Something I am not so comfortable with in the kitchen is baking bread. My family LOVES ciabatti rolls and I keep thinking I should learn how to make them myself. I am sure it is not hard – but it is soooo easy to pick them up at Trader Joe’s. So, there is my contribution to the list of things I’d like to do but haven’t gotten the courage yet.

    Cheers! Sara